Fishing or just Fishy?

I have heard different versions of the idiom “fish or cut bait” for as long as I can remember.  If someone is dragging their feet in a situation, fish or cut bait was a way to tell them to get busy or get out of the way.  There are so many times when it’s easier to stay busy or “fish” without really committing to anything.  For some, it’s hard to understand why it’s so difficult. 

Change is hard.  When change is thrust upon me, I have been known to dig in and do my best to stay put.  It’s not always possible to avoid or to predict change.  When my husband died, my brain knew he was gone, but my emotions were in denial for a very long time.  I went through the motions of moving forward.  I put on a good show.  The reality, however, was that I just chose not to face things that were too difficult.  My house fell apart around me.  I spent money on things I didn’t really need.  I buried myself in my kid’s activities.  I refused to really engage in moving forward with my life.  And, I did a pretty good job of fooling everyone, including myself for almost ten years. That’s when I realized that I wanted to live again.  Love again.  And to do that, I had to commit to pulling my life together.   

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” 

Jeremiah 29:11 ESV

The decision to love again was a simple one for me.  The reality of opening up my heart and confronting ALL of my feelings was a lot harder.  I had to admit that I loved Terry with all that I had for a very long time.  I had to face the pain that comes with that kind of love.  I had to sort through the various emotions and process them.  My husband had been gone almost ten years, but allowing my heart to love again felt dishonest, disrespectful.  Again, my brain was very logical about it all.  It was my emotions that were struggling.  I had to make the decision to move forward.  I had to decide where and how I wanted to live my life:  in the past full of memories or in the future adding new memories to my list.  It kind of sounds like a “no brainer” as I type these words, but the struggle to fish or cut bait was very real to me during that time.  I could continue to sit and watch my life as a spectator or I could commit to accept the joys and the pain that come with actively participating in life. 

There are people everywhere that struggle with making similar decisions.  And, unfortunately, many of those people are in an unending cycle of martyrdom.  The need for attention, support and even adoration from others because of their ordeal (real or imagined) is more important than living, changing or progressing.  Have you ever had a friend that keeps reconciling with an ex?  There may be a list a mile long of the problems that come with that particular relationship.  All logic is superseded by the need to have “someone”, even a bad someone in their life.  For a while, things may go well.  Life is great.  But, those bad behaviors resurface.   And, it’s now your responsibility to sympathize with your friend, to encourage her to be strong, to relieve her of any blame.  The cycle will continue, over and over, as long as the game is played.  It’s easier to sit on the bank and pretend you are fishing with a knotted and tangled line than it is to cut the line and move to another spot. 

“One who has isolated himself seeks his own desires; he rejects all sound judgment.

 A fool takes no pleasure in understanding but only in disclosing what is on his mind.”

Proverbs 18:1-2 NEV

Our world is more interested in the sob stories than in the happy endings.  Check out what you watch for entertainment.  I grew up watching Gunsmoke and Bonanza.  There were sad story lines, but the good guy always triumphed in the end.  There was always an upside.  In every episode, decisions were made and life moved forward.  In some of my favorite shows today, it’s sometimes hard to decide who the good guy is.  We root for the anti-hero; the brooding, suffering guy that’s just doing “the wrong thing for the right reason.”   We adore and celebrate the darkness.  And, we seem to need to emulate it. 

I believe that we can grow and mature through our trials and mistakes.  In an attempt to reconcile ourselves with the flaws that come with being human, we too often elevate these very flaws and venerate them as favors.  We become enamored with the cracks that appear in life due to the struggles we endure.  We seek the compassion and tenderness that is provided by our support system rather than strive to advance and perfect our own lives.  It’s not easy to admit mistakes and correct the path forward. 

When we are told to fish or cut bait, it doesn’t mean you have to walk away and start over.  It just means you have to be committed to the path you choose.   Invest fully in life choices.  Stop complaining and looking for sympathy. Embrace your decision and don’t apologize.

So what will it be?  Do you fish where you are; or, do you cut bait and move forward? 

“Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.” 

James 3:17-18 MSG

WHO NEEDS PEOPLE?

“People,

People who need people,

Are the luckiest people in the world”

“People”
Jule Styne (music)
Bob Merrill (lyrics)

There words are from the 1964 song by Barbra Streisand.  I have come to a greater understanding of the meaning during the past weeks.  While I have been very grateful to keep in touch with my small group, my prayer team and my church family through Zoom, WebEx, Email and Streaming platforms, I have missed the physical connection.  I miss the greetings and interaction with Billy and Carol every Sunday in “our” seats at Regal.  I miss the hugs, laughter and discussion time with Otto, Sharon, Richard and others in our small group time on Wednesday.  I miss sharing the joys and concerns of others during prayer time every Sunday with Dawid, Jane, Robert, et al.  I miss hearing all of the voices together with the worship team in corporate worship time.  I crave the actual physical interaction that comes with each of these groups.  Hebrew 10:25 states:

 “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”

Hebrews 10:25 TLB

Attending church services has been a part of my life for years.  But, I now realize how very precious that time together truly is. 

The Pandemic has also highlighted a few other things in our lives (some good and some not so good.) We have seen firsthand how self-serving actions can cause others to suffer with the toilet paper shortage. Panic came to the forefront and hoarding was the name of the game.  I’ve lived through a few hurricanes and floods that caused Houston to shut down.  But, I don’t think I’ve ever see things quite as bad, especially when there were no real shortages.  There were people out to make a buck through stockpiling, but there were also people that were willing to give.  One example is “Katy Neighbors Helping Neighbors”, a Facebook page started to share needs.  If someone need baby wipes, or formula, or cleaning supplies or anything else, they could post their need.  Usually, someone would offer to share or knew a store that had it in stock.  I saw LOTS of sharing and meeting needs on that site. Food pantries were stretched to the extreme, and people stepped up to help and meet the needs. 

Families have been forced to be together.  Kids are doing school on line from home.  Parents may be working from home.  There’s no escaping with restaurants only serving take-out and malls and movie theaters closed.  I’ve seen parents step up and get involved with their kids school time.  Game nights (or afternoons) have come back into style.  This has been an opportunity to learn something new through on-line classes.  I’ve heard of some grandmothers that have done sewing and/or cooking lessons with their grandchildren via facetime or other apps. There has been time for family walks or bike rides, family meals, or just family time. 

How wonderful and pleasant it is
    when brothers live together in harmony! 

Psalm 133:1 TLB

As we begin the process of reopening Texas and the rest of these United States, I hear mixed messages.  There is frustration that things are not moving faster.  And, there is the fear that we are moving too fast.  I hear about the need to return to work as well as the complaints from those who receive more on unemployment than they do at their job.  I see the excitement for the return of socializing mixed with concern over the continued social distancing guidelines.  It’s easy to fall prey to fear and depression that accompanies the seemingly overwhelming task ahead of us.  We are approaching a “new” normal.  Masks will continue to be the accessory of choice for many.  Hand-washing has moved up in priority (where it should have been all along.)  I’ve joined the ranks of actually USING the hand-sanitizer I carry with me.  Fist bumps will replace handshakes.  Air hugs and kisses may be the “thing” for a while.  We will survive this time.  We will adjust.  I refuse to give into fear mongering. 

“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today. 

Matthew 6:34 TLB

What has your experience during the Covid-19 pandemic been?  Have you found meaning in some of the “norms” that you took for granted.  Have you spent time with your family and strengthened those ties?  Are you ready to step back into the reopened world? 

The Lord is my shepherd;
    I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
    he leads me beside peaceful streams.

     He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
    bringing honor to his name.

 Even when I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
    for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
    protect and comfort me.

 You prepare a feast for me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
    My cup overflows with blessings.

 Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
    all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord
    forever.

Psalm 23 TLB

Social Media: the Good, the Bad, the Ugly

(and the questionable)

Social Media affects all parts of our life.   Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube (just to name a few) are ingrained in our day to day routines.  During the recent pandemic and social media has been the place to get information, to attend church and to just stay in touch.  There are some really good things that occur on the platforms.

I love keeping up with my extended family through Facebook.  I have watched my great-nieces and nephews grow up through posts.  I have reconnected with school friends and teachers.   I have been able to host “watch parties” of church services for The Bridge on Sundays during our time of social distancing.  It’s been great to share my church with others all over the state.  Our small group has been meeting through WebEx and we even had a family wedding via Zoom.  All of these things have been great.  I love seeing posts that recognize local accomplishments during this time.  We’ve seen food distributed by schools and organizations, hand sanitizer made and distributed by local distilleries, masks being handed out in central areas.  All of these things have been good. 

But, along with the good, there are some bad things that occur because of social media posts.  Information that is not correct is often posted as fact and then the false information gets passed along (very quickly).  Those that live with a “glass half-full” attitude concerning life, can promote panic among others.  (I suspect the hoarding of toilet paper was exacerbated by panicked posts.)  Rumors become “truth” in a flash when they are shared across the social media platform.  It’s easy to make negative and/or hurtful comments with a post on Facebook or Instagram.  There is empowerment that comes from the facelessness of a keyboard.  We will post words on these sites that we would NEVER say out loud to a person’s face.  We attack friends and family with a simple comment. 

And then, there’s the Ugly.  Social media platforms while promoting social equality and interaction between users, has given us a way to deepen the gulf between the differences.  Political ads and campaigns have always been harsh and often ugly.  But, social media has allowed “US” to be included in the muck and mire.  Opinions are no longer welcome (unless you agree with me?!)  Because the written word doesn’t convey emotions, there is no tempering of the vitriol that we spew to protect/support THE side.  Half-truths and out and out lies take an equal if not greater footing with truth.  I’ve seen (and felt) relationships dissolve for these reasons.  I believe in healthy debate.  I think you have as much right to your opinion as I have to mine.  But, I don’t get the need to attack, the need for emotional vomit when I say something that is contrary to your thoughts. 

Another aspect of the ugly side of social media is the opportunity for sex trafficking.  Underage students are posting/receiving explicit photos on various platforms. Sex traffickers seek out the disenfranchised youth and make offers that are “too good to be true.”  How many busts have been reported that originated in a chatroom or some other social media app?  My kids grew up at the beginning of chat rooms and there were way too many girls/guys sneaking out at night to meet someone they only knew from a chatroom.  Sometimes it turned out ok.  But, the times that it didn’t outweighed them. 

So, what’s the questionable part of social media?  I will admit to be old.  But, I will add, that I have also been called an “over-sharer” on social media.  With that in mind, I have to wonder some posts I’ve seen most recently.  Is it really necessary to document every moment of the day and post it for others to see?  Am I missing something here?  I understand the YouTube tutorials and have watched several to figure out how to use or do certain things.  But, why do I need to see how you get dressed for the day or other intimate details of your life?  Most of us wouldn’t live on a busy street and leave the windows uncovered for any voyeur to watch the details of our daily lives.  So, why do we exhibit these same things on the web?   Is privacy being sacrificed on the altar of self-importance?  Have we raised a generation that does not know how to be an individual and only feels accomplished when others “like” or comment on our posts?

We live in a world of fast food and microwaves.  We have lost the art of planning, patience and perseverance.   I would hope during this time of recovery, we can take the time to consider our interactions and decide:

  1. Finding the good things and keep them up
  2. Being aware of the comments I make and the way they may hurt others.
  3.  Avoid being pulled into the dangerous world of misinformation and vitriol. 
  4. Concentrate on encouraging the living breathing people around me.

Not Me!

I’m not the problem!!

Social distancing.  It can be boring.  And, we all think that we are OK to be out and about.  It’s those OTHER people that are the problem.  Here are some things to consider in today’s environment:

  1. While people are thought to be most contagious when they are most symptomatic (the sickest), some spread might be possible before people show symptoms.  There have been reports of this occurring with this new corona-virus, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.  The virus that causes COVID-19 seems to be spreading easily and sustainably in the community. So, we should probably enact the “better safe than sorry” attitude. 
  2. You may be taking every precaution and feel very safe about visiting with an at-risk person.  But, can you guarantee that the people with which you have contact are taking the best precautions?  What about their interactions with others?  The best advice may be “Act like you are already contagious.”
  3. Wearing gloves can protect your hands from coming in contact with the virus, but you still can pick up and spread the virus on the gloves.  Wearing a pair of gloves all day may actually do more harm than good.  Good hygiene is the best alternative. 
  4. Be aware of what you touch.  Don’t forget to clean your phone, your mouse, your keyboard. Antibacterial gels/hand washing won’t do much good if the items your touch most often are never cleaned/sanitized. 

Some of us are still required to go into the office to work.  I carry a disposable towel with me from the car to the office and use it as a barrier when I have to touch the stair railing, door handles, elevator buttons and light switches. I dispose of it when I enter the office.  I have a bottle of disinfectant that I used daily on my desk items, my desk phone and my cell phone, the copier buttons, light switches and door handles in the office.  I wash my hands often and use Hand Sanitizer quite often.  When I leave for the day, I reverse the process and use a disposable towel on the way to the car, taking advantage of the garbage cans in the parking garage.  Then, I use my hand sanitizer before touching my steering wheel. 
Because I am still working in an office, I am hesitant to be around any high risk persons. 

Social distancing is challenging.  But, the better job I do at protecting others from ME, the faster the curve will flatten and life will return to normal (whatever that might be.)

The Glass Half Empty

Why are our measurements and comparisons often negative?

When discussing the current pandemic, we focus on the number of current cases and deaths. While these are a valid numbers, why are the number of recoveries not mentioned?

Instead of celebrating that I have a safe home in which to live, I complain about the size or the style or the changes than need to be made.

I look at my overly full closet and moan about having nothing to wear.

My pantry and refrigerator are fully stocked, but I yearn to eat out in a sit down restaurant.

I bemoan coming to work (as an identified essential) while others are sheltering at home. But, I neglect to be thankful for an income and a faster commute.

I watch with fear as the price of oil drops and forget to enjoy the cheaper gas costs.

I whine about not being able to see/visit with my friends in family groups or at church. However, I overlook the opportunities this affords me to spend time studying, crafting and concentrating on my family.

It’s easy to concentrate on what we are missing or losing. This pandemic is affecting weddings and funerals, work and vacations. Maybe, this is a time to refocus on what is important. It’s the marriage that should be the focus, not the wedding. We should cherish the living instead of waiting until it’s too late. We need to count ourselves fortunate that we can work without letting it be the focus of our lives. And, the best vacations are all about spending time with the ones that we love and cherish, not the location that we visit or the entertainment.

Life will return to normal. We will get to have the celebrations as well as all the other options for entertainment and/or travel. Our routines will again take over our lives. One can only hope and pray that we do not forget the positive lessons that we learn right now.

There’s an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth:

A right time for birth and another for death,
A right time to plant and another to reap,
A right time to kill and another to heal,
A right time to destroy and another to construct,
A right time to cry and another to laugh,
A right time to lament and another to cheer,
A right time to make love and another to abstain,
A right time to embrace and another to part,
A right time to search and another to count your losses,
A right time to hold on and another to let go,
A right time to rip out and another to mend,
A right time to shut up and another to speak up,
A right time to love and another to hate,
A right time to wage war and another to make peace.

 But in the end, does it really make a difference what anyone does? I’ve had a good look at what God has given us to do—busywork, mostly. True, God made everything beautiful in itself and in its time—but he’s left us in the dark, so we can never know what God is up to, whether he’s coming or going. I’ve decided that there’s nothing better to do than go ahead and have a good time and get the most we can out of life. That’s it—eat, drink, and make the most of your job. It’s God’s gift.

 I’ve also concluded that whatever God does, that’s the way it’s going to be, always. No addition, no subtraction. God’s done it and that’s it. That’s so we’ll quit asking questions and simply worship in holy fear.

Whatever was, is.
Whatever will be, is.
That’s how it always is with God.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 MSG

Is Chaos a Choice?

I like routines.  I survive with the illusion of being in control.  I do not accept change well.  My first defense is just to ignore what’s swirling around me and wait for the dust to settle.  But, the dust isn’t settling very quickly this time.  The world is caught up in the chaos for disease and failing economies.  I track the oil prices on my phone; not a comforting activity right now.  Social media has been both a help and a hindrance recently.  There are lots of resources being offered up, but the panic buying (hoarding) has also been fueled by some of the posts.  The news media seems to be more intent on scaring up a story than providing facts and information in a calm and helpful manner.   It’s hard to know what is real and what is just hype.

We are encouraged to practice social distancing.  Schools are on extended breaks.  Universities are moving to online classes only.  Some businesses are instituting remote work.  Other are beginning the furlough process (Unpaid Corona Vacations) for employees.  Restaurants have shifted takeout only.  Churches are using the internet to meet.  Stores are closing or cutting hours.  Groceries are scarce at times.  And, Toilet Paper has become the prime indicator of how well we are doing.  When it rains, it pours!  What are we supposed to do?

Chaos is defined as “a state of utter confusion or disorder; a total lack of organization or order.”  I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’m living the definition of chaos.  Over the past few months, there have been several very unsettling events that have thrown my life a little off-balance.  They didn’t happen to me directly, but they have affected me just the same.  These events brought change to MY normal and I reacted emotionally and spiritually.   As I have been trying to recover my balance, the stock market crashed, oil prices tanked, and the Coronavirus pandemic took center stage.  Although, I continue to go to work each day and I may seem to be in control, my mind is reeling as my world seemingly spins out of control.  I have to fight the urge to go into “Fix it” mode. 

My morning devotion was in Psalm 37.  One verse in particular (a very familiar one) answered the question “What am I supposed to do?)  Here are several versions of the 7th verse of Psalm 37:

“Quiet down before God, be prayerful before him.  Don’t bother with those who climb the ladder, who elbow their way to the top.” 

the Message

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.” 

New International

“Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.” 

King James

“Be still before the Lord; wait patiently for Him and entrust yourself to Him; Do not fret (whine, agonize) because of him who prospers in his way,
Because of the man who carries out wicked schemes.”

Amplified

Be still.  Right.  Easier said than done.  I do not WANT to be still and wait.  I want things back to normal.  But, right now, being still is the best thing that I can do.  I can be still in my home, away from the rush.  Families will have the time to eat meals together, to play games together, and to just BE together.  There are no extracurricular activities that require our attendance or attention.  We can choose to use this time to connect deeply with our spouse and/or children or we can waste the time fretting and binge watching on the internet.   We can moan about having to eat at home or enjoy the creativity of prepping meals together, even if that means helping to unpack the take-out.  We can worry about where the economy is headed or take advantage of opportunities to save money during this distancing period.  We can allow the chaos to eat us alive, or we can turn to God and allow Him to speak to each of us in the quiet.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to spend more time in the quiet.  I’ll practice being still before God.  I will spend time in His word.  I will once again spend time drawing, journaling and creating in order to connect with my refuge and my strength. 

I choose to see this chaotic time as an opportunity to reconnect, to return to my roots, to grow in my faith. I will be still.

1 God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
    he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,
    the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
    to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields[d] with fire.
10 He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.’

Psalm 46: 1-10 NIV

Cliches and Control

There are several platitudes that we say in order to find or give comfort:

1. Into each life some rain must fall.

2. God will never give you more than you can handle.

The first statement is rather sanctimonious. It basically says “Get over it. We all suffer!”

The 2nd statement is a misrepresentation of a Bible passage: “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength but with your testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

I’ve come to understand that my strength depends on God. If I’m only tested to my strength, I will never need God. However, when I understand that “God will provide”, I know that I rely upon Him for all of my strength and endurance.

I think of The story of Noah. He was told to build a BIG boat. He was ridiculed. I doubt he truly understood, but he obeyed. The children’s stories make us think the journey through the flood lasted 40 days. The rains may have lasted that long, but Noah and his family were in the Ark for almost a year. I wonder if they had enough toilet paper? Do you think Noah survived on his own power? God gave Noah the Ark plans. Did He share the long term (ie: one year on the water) plan? Noah’s Faith was tested.

Are you ready to spend a year of faith living? How about a month or a day or even an hour? I want to say yes. However, the control side of me wants more information and frankly, more control. We are in the midst of panic and fear in our world. Will we trust God to provide everything we need even when we don’t have toilet paper? Do I have a choice?

 “So don’t worry at all about having enough food and clothing. Why be like the heathen? For they take pride in all these things and are deeply concerned about them. But your heavenly Father already knows perfectly well that you need them, and he will give them to you if you give him first place in your life and live as he wants you to.

 “So don’t be anxious about tomorrow. God will take care of your tomorrow too. Live one day at a time.

Matthew 6:31-34 TLB